Photo Credit: Nell Redmond-USA Today/ACC Media
After a shocking loss at Wake Forest, Virginia Tech heads on the road to Louisville looking to bounce back while the Cardinals look to continue to turn their season around after a win against Florida State got them to 2-4. With that said, here's our keys to the game for the Hokies against Louisville.
Stretch The Field on Offense
Khalil Herbert's massive success and Tech's reliance on their between-the-tackles rushing attack has led to more teams trying to load the box with 8 as often as they can. Last week, Wake Forest had a good amount of success with that as Khalil Herbert had under 100 rushing yards for the first time this season.
Louisville is likely to have a same strategy going into this game, making it of the utmost importance that Tech stretches the field both vertically and horizontally.
Screens and jet sweeps get maligned a lot of the time, but Tech has had plenty of success running those plays in the past especially because they can take advantage of an overloaded box and they can also force teams to stretch their defense and only have 6 or 7 in the box. Lessen the number in the box and that'll give Khalil Herbert more space to operate which is exactly what you want with a guy who leads the nation with 6 carries of 30+ yards.
In particular, Tech needs to use Tre Turner and Tayvion Robinson especially Turner who has proven to be an effective playmaker in space via jet sweeps and screens.
Of course, the vertical passing game is also a big part of that as well. Hendon Hooker had arguably the worst game of his Hokie career against Wake Forest, but that game looks pretty clearly like a fluke rather than a trend. Regardless of that, Tech needs Hooker to be more accurate and a passing game where receivers get more separation with better play and definitely better schemes and playcalls being needed to help with that.
Tech has to be able to stretch the field even with a star RB Khalil Herbert and high-end offensive line that can only do so much if Louisville is loading the box with 8 and Tech can't stretch them out.
Contain Javian Hawkins
The ACC is loaded with running backs this year with two of the best facing off in Khalil Herbert and Javian Hawkins. For the Hokies, any defensive gameplan has to start with containing Hawkins.
Louisville's offense is built around their star tailback who is averaging 6 yards per carry and is among the top rushers in the nation with 693 rushing yards as he's well on his way to his second-straight season of 1,000+ rushing yards.
One of the best way to show how important Hawkins is to the Louisville offense is the fact that against Notre Dame, Hawkins ran for a season low 3.4 yards per carry and was held to only 51 rushing yards as the Cardinals only put up 7 points. Last week, Louisville's offense bounced back significantly with Hawkins leading the way with a season best 174 yards, 10.9 yards per carry, and 3 rushing touchdowns as Louisville put up 48 points on Florida State.
It's not a coincidence that Louisville's two lowest scoring outputs against ACC competition happened when Hawkins had his two lowest rushing outputs. If the Hokies are going to beat Louisville, it has to start with containing Hawkins.
Of course, Tech's rush defense has had plenty of struggles this season with a front 7 that has looked rough especially at DT and LB with it hurting even more that Jarrod Hewitt will miss the first half after his targeting penalty in the second half last week. Tech will need their front 7 to start to find something though Rayshard Ashby and Alan Tisdale both are showing signs of finding that to an extent while Josh Fuga could be a guy to watch whose role could grow.
Bounce Back Well
Virginia Tech had struggles that we haven't seen all season last week.
Their 100+ penalty yards against Wake Forest stands out like a sore thumb after the Hokies were second in the conference for fewest penalty yards entering that game. Hendon Hooker has never had 3 interceptions in a game in his Hokie career after he only had 2 interceptions all of last season. Jarrod Hewitt and Norell Pollard both picked up unsportsmanlike conduct penalties that were simply out of character.
During this week, Justin Fuente and his players have said the right words but the question that always remains is whether their actions will live out their words?
That will be especially when the inevitable first mistake happens because there's no such thing as it being possible to have a perfect game. There's a reason why even now, there are so few teams that go undefeated in college football and only one team to ever go undefeated in NFL history.
The good news for Hokie fans, Tech's track record of bouncing back well under Justin Fuente is quite good. Combine that with a veteran team that should be better at knowing what it takes to bounce back well and this should be an area where the Hokies do well.